Thursday, January 27, 2011

Yellowstone supervolcano and Michio Kaku

Rebecca Hillman of CNN (blogs) decided to interview an expert about the Yellowstone caldera.



As you can see, she picked her universal science expert, namely Dr Michio Kaku, a co-father of string field theory. :-)

I think he is very entertaining. Even if his science has flaws, which is likely, he could be hired for similar jobs but there should be some real experts who pre-check what he is going to say. Nevertheless, his comments overlap with science, at least at some popular level, but volcanologist Erik Klemetti was driven up the wall.




Kaku's message is pretty simple: the big volcano erupts once in 600,000 years or so, it's about the right time for it to erupt again, plus (not minus) 100,000 years, and when it does, the U.S. as we know it will be destroyed: 100 miles around the epicenter will be killed and 500 miles will be lethally contaminated by ash etc. (the latter is probably nonsense). He says that volcano monitoring is black magic so we have no idea when it erupts. When it does, you should run.

A similar eruption contributed to the K-T demise of dinosaurs, he says. (In combination with an asteroid impact, he says: I personally don't believe that such rare events are often "double whammies" - in my opinion, it's more natural to have one true cause.)

Well, I have no doubt that Kaku's knowledge about the volcanoes is tiny in comparison with Klemetti's knowledge. At the same moment, I think that Klemetti didn't do a good job in explaining what's wrong with Kaku's claims. You can't just make a list and say that everything in it is wrong, Dr Klemetti.

In particular, it's obvious that Klemetti is primarily upset by the comment that volcano monitoring is "black magic" because this proposition undermines the respectability of the discipline. However, could Dr Klemetti please explain what can actually be predicted, how much time in advance it can be predicted, and what evidence do we have that these predictions will be valid?

The phrase "very sophisticated monitoring" with a broken link (that would answer the questions anyway) simply can't replace either of these answers that people like me are waiting for. In this sense, Kaku's summary, despite the sensationalism I am fully aware of, was more convincing for me than Dr Klemetti's page.

It's plausible that Dr Klemetti can BigThink, as the website indicates, but he should also learn how to use his BigMouth because the BigThink remained largely invisible.

1 comment:

  1. The url http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/activity/index.php in the article worked for me (I am in the U.S.)

    It linked to a page titled: Yellowstone Recent Status Report, Updates, and Information Releases

    That page was a long list of monthly updates, each of which had a alert level and aviation color code, and appear to list the number of earthquakes, the magnitude and location of the largest such quake, and a Ground Deformation Summary.

    "Careful analysis of the Yellowstone GPS data shows that the period of accelerated Yellowstone caldera uplift, beginning in 2004, has decreased. Some GPS stations exhibit little change and others appear to reflect slight subsidence. A record of recent ground displacement can be found at:
    http://pboweb.unavco.org/shared/scripts/stations/?checkkey=WLWY&sec=timeseries_plots×eries=raw"

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